New PTAC technologies expand hoteliers' options

Many new PTAC units have the ability to connect to the Internet, allowing hoteliers to collect a wealth of information. Photo credit: PTAC Crew

Whether the goal is to increase guest comfort, reduce operating and maintenance costs or boost efficiency—or all of the above—hoteliers have more air conditioning options than ever to choose from. Packaged terminal air conditioner technology is changing how energy efficient units are and also offering increased comfort due to new innovations such as multispeed fans and blowers in quieter units. 

One of the next big technological advancements is inverter-type PTAC units, according to David Howell, VP of client development at PTAC Crew. These units use inverters to allow a unit to accomplish variable cooling or heating output. Traditional units are either running full speed or not running at all (depending upon demands from the thermostat). Inverter units however, can run at full output when necessary, or run at one-half or one-quarter output (or whatever is needed) to maintain guestroom comfort.  

“This variable output technology will save on energy costs and keep the guests comfortable simultaneously,” Howell said. 

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Variable capacity machines match
the unit’s output to actual demand
for increased comfort and energy
savings. Photo credit: Friedrich

PTACs now are combining an energy-efficient inverter compressor with the ability to bring in conditioned make-up air, said Barry Bookout, Friedrich director of sales for the lodging and specialty markets. “This new advancement is a game-changer for achieving exceptional indoor air quality and being able to follow [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] 62.1-2013 standards, which require bringing in a specific amount of outdoor air and providing [Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value] 8 filtration—something that in the past only could be achieved with much larger, more complex and expensive systems,” he continued. 

Douglas Mackemer, national director of parts, supplies and specialized equipment at Carrier Enterprise, said installing technology into hotel heating, ventilation or air conditioning systems or PTACs to automatically adjust a guestroom’s climate is feasible—in most cases. He said any PTAC that has been around more than 10 years may not have the components required to interact with the cloud, where most energy-management systems operate, but if it has a standard interior thermostat it should be possible.

Mackemer said this technology also provides data to hoteliers looking to save on utility costs—if a hotel can track a guest’s preferred temperature patterns, the property can reduce the amount of energy needed to provide a guest’s desired climate. Even if a hotel can set a temperature back just one or two degrees, the savings can be great.

Wireless connectivity is an area that is evolving rapidly, Bookout agreed. Building owners and managers want to be able to precisely control their properties remotely while ensuring maximum efficiency and guest comfort. “With connectivity and remote management, building owners can control individual units as well as entire blocks of rooms, which increases efficiency tremendously,” he said. 

On-board controls and advanced thermostats will allow hoteliers to operate in-room units to the maximum potential. “This area of the hospitality industry is moving quickly with simple automation that might keep a room temperature at a moderate level until a guest checks in, or reacting to room occupancy,” said Scott Stayton, director of marketing and product management for the Climate Control Group. “As controls advance, the industry will see options such as geofencing, where a guestroom may activate the in-room unit based on them entering the hotel lobby or approaching their room door.”

Electronically commutated motor fan motors
allow units to run at variable speed rates.
Photo credit: Climate Control Group

Why it pays to retrofit those old PTACs

As technologies and product designs advance, there can definitely be benefits to replacing PTACs or other systems before actual failure, Bookout said. Some of the most common advantages include increased efficiency, lower sound levels and more advanced features.  

All HVAC systems (including PTAC units) lose efficiency over time. Fan motors don’t move as much air and compressors become more noisy and less efficient, Howell said. This translates to more energy expense, as well as reduced guest comfort. “Who wants to stay in a hotel room with a rattling old PTAC unit that can’t keep the room comfortable?” he asked. 

Additionally, all of the major PTAC manufacturers are constantly updating and improving their designs and unit efficiencies. Today’s units are now whisper-quiet and highly efficient. 

If a PTAC unit or other HVAC system hasn’t been cleaned properly, new equipment is definitely better off than dirty old equipment. “New equipment will save money with energy consumption,” Mackemer said. 

It is critical when considering a retrofit that the property selects a product that actually offers an improvement. “In short, be careful not to cut corners when it comes time for replacement and work with a trusted brand to ensure you and your guests get the most out of your HVAC system,” Bookout said. 

How technology is making maintenance tasks easier

Technology and product design improvements both play a major role in simplifying installation and maintenance of PTACs. That’s important because with central systems, there’s a major risk to hoteliers of an entire building becoming uninhabitable if the system needs repaired or replaced, Bookout said. 

“With room-by-room units, there’s no clutter of outdoor condensing units like you have with split systems, and no cooling tower to find a home for, like with a chiller,” he said. “Plus, the contractor doesn’t have to deal with refrigerant lines running from floor to floor. Setting the unit is straightforward—electrical, drainage and duct connections can be done by a single technician in minutes.”

In fact, some PTACs are literally plug and play; they simply slide out of the wall sleeve to allow for fast, easier maintenance and servicing, Bookout said. Ductless units are one area that hotel staff may find daunting to clean and maintain.  

Many new PTAC units/PTAC control systems have the ability to connect to the Internet, Howell said. A wealth of information about each individual unit can be accessed from anywhere in the world with this technology, he continued.  

“The hotel engineer can be alerted about dirty air filters or many other issues that may be reducing the unit’s ability to keep the room comfortable,” he said. “Scheduling routine and special maintenance becomes much simpler when you already know the status and condition of the unit prior to entering the guest rooms.”

It’s important to keep in mind how the right HVAC solution can impact other maintenance issues as well. For example, thanks to advanced technology, some systems can precisely control indoor air humidity. That reduces problems such as mildew and odors, which can be extremely costly for hoteliers and may certainly lead to unhappy guests if left unaddressed, Bookout said. 

Cleaning filters regularly will have the greatest impact on the longevity of air conditioning equipment. Photo credit: Carrier

While maintenance might be easier with new PTAC technology, there needs to be continued discussion around maintenance with staff, Mackemer said. “Cleaning the filters is the main concern that needs to be done regularly—doing so will give the greatest impact on the longevity of the equipment and the guest satisfaction,” he said. “How often really depends on the floor type but every month to every two weeks.” 

This needs to be completed on a regular schedule so they don’t get build-up on them, which makes them harder to clean. Training should be done regularly so hoteliers can be sure their employees are doing what they should be doing, Mackemer said. “If the maintenance is being done, PTACs should lasts a good long time,” he said. 

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